Imagining Peace with Isaiah

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent + November 28, 2010

“Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares”

The iconic statue of peacemaking at the United Nations was a gift of the Soviet Union in 1959 at the height of the Cold war.  It stands with the Citicorp Building, a towering symbol of capitalism and greed as its backdrop.

Hundred years or so before the birth of Christ, Isaiah a man troubled by the events in Judah, had a vision of peace.  The vision was in sharp contrast to the brutal existence under the oppression and domination of an evil empire.  The Assyrian rule extended across most of the Middle East from their base in what is modern Iraq.  This empire terrorized the region, sweeping in and snatching control.

The peoples and places they acquired were scattered and consumed with a ferocious appetite with no end in sight.  This military machine rolled on and a small nation like Judah didn’t stand a chance against them.  The always ravenous Assyrians were knocking at the gates about to consume Judah and the people could sense the impending doom.  All would most certainly be lost.

It is here in the dark hours of devastation that Isaiah writes a prophecy of the days when all people will seek to learn God’s ways, God will teach them justice and peace; and will invite them to walk in God’s light.  Isaiah isn’t stockpiling supplies for a siege, locking himself away, or running for the hills.  The prophet, knowing that the world is about to change, doesn’t share the dreams of someone in deep denial, rather he shares the dreams of the faithful and of the God of light.

The Message Isaiah was given regarding Judah and Jerusalem was that there is a day coming when the mountain of God’s House will be The Mountain—it will be solid, towering over all mountains.  All nations will rush like rivers toward it.  People from all over will set out for it say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob.  God will show us the way so we can live the way we’re made to live.”

Zion is the source of the revelation and God’s message, the law comes from Jerusalem.  God will settle arguments fairly between nations and make things right between many peoples.  They will turn their swords and spears into rakes and shovels.  They will never make war or attack one another.  Come Israel, family of Jacob, people of the promise, let’s live by the light of God.

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Poetic words.  Powerful images.  Promises of Peace.

  • God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
  • they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
  • nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah’s vision is that God’s dreams for us are not our dreams for ourselves.  The oppression and darkness of today are not God’s dreams for us.  Rather, one day God will create from this weary warring wasteland a new one world.  A world in which peoples and nations will not build vast industrial military complexes and create war, but instead build systems of sustainable abundance and create peace between themselves.

This dream is not offered by an ivory towered political leader, news commentator, or academic think tank, rather is shared by someone who understands the realities of the world.  Isaiah is like you and I, living in uncertain times, uncharted waters, and increasingly a world of unbelievers.  Isaiah is like you and I, feeling at times utterly powerless and completely unable to change the world in which we live.

This dream delivered through the vision of Isaiah, shares the radical, incomprehensible and for some scary dream that God has for universal peace.  Isaiah breaks Judah the news that God might love other nations.  Now Judah is still on top with its holy mountain Zion in Jerusalem where the Temple had stood, but coming toward it are not just faithful Jews, but rivers of peoples from many nations to receive the message of God’s law and love.  

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Imagine if we as Americans were to learn of a dream through the vision of a modern day prophet that shared the radical, incomprehensible and for some scary dream that God has for universal peace.  Imagine if you and I were given the news that God was about to do a new thing, to beat greed into abundance.  That God might bless more than America.  Now the good old U.S.A. is still on top with our holy mountain capitalism, where a strong economy once stood, but coming toward it are not just prosperous Americans, but rivers of peoples from many nations to receive the message of God’s law and love.  

 Imagine peace beyond our fears, imaging abundance beyond our scarcity mentality…

Imagine… as a kid I remember imagining what the future would be like.  Daydreaming, imagining intently about what that far away world tomorrow would be like.  Do you remember what you imagined the world would be…

  • Was it filled with fighting siblings, arguing spouses, warring nations? 
  • Was it filled with starving babies, child laborers, disease ravaged countries? 
  • Was it filled with maxed out credit cards, living beyond one’s means, extended unemployment?

My childhood imagined world of today was beautiful, full of peace and abundance.  It had everything I hoped, needed and dreamed.  It was filled with unconditional love and acceptance, fullness and wholeness, faithful family, friends and hopeful tomorrows.  Some think these the silly day dreams of a child.

Imagine modern day prophets pointing us from darkness to light, from war to peace, from greed to abundance… There are many in our world today, but unfortunately we write them off, we ignore them, we call them crazy hippies, socialists, or day dreamers.

Singer, songwriter and music icon John Lennon day dreamed…

Imagine all the people.  Living for today.  Imagine there’s no countries.  It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for.  Living life in peace.  You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us.  And the world will be as one. 

World War II General and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower day dreamed…

Imagine that every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.  

Spiritual but not Religious Human Rights Activist and one of the most famous rock stars of our day Bono, day dreams about God and calls on and out our imaginations. 

So you’ve been doing God’s work, but what’s God working on now?  What’s God working on this year?  Two and a half million Africans are going to die of AIDS.  What’s God working on now? I meet the people who tell me it’s going to take an act of God to stop this plague.  Well, I don’t believe that. I think God is waiting for us to act. In fact, I think that God is….waiting for us to turn around this supertanker of indifference….waiting for us to recognize that distance can no longer decide who is our neighbor.  We can’t choose our neighbors anymore.  We can’t choose the benefits of globalization without some of the responsibilities, and we should remind ourselves that ‘love thy neighbor’ is not advice:  it is a command.

Prophetic words of peace and beating greed into abundance shared at the 2002 Africare dinner in Washington, DC.  

Imagine the world Isaiah gives us this day.  People are streaming to a holy mountain from every corner of the earth.  They carry with them the weapons of war and greed, and as they climb the mountain, they cast swords and capital assets into the furnace where they are recast into tools for cultivation and community.  The sound of repentant people and restored community grows louder and louder, as more and more people weary of war and broken by greed arrive, drawn by the light, ready for a new day of peace.

Isaiah gives us all a vision of what will be… 

  • God gives us an invitation to begin living that way now. 
  • God gives us the gift of God’s self now, not in some distant time and place.
  • God calls us to live and walk in that light.  Advent is a season where we are called to put down our burdens and notice the light.  

It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and we center our lives with increasing brightness in Jesus, light for a weary world.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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